- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2001

When a national tragedy occurs, one huge question looms for everybody in sports: Should the games go on without interruption to help us return to normalcy, or should they be postponed as a sign of respect and sorrow?
It isn't an easy question to answer. Certainly, we need something to distract us and help heal our physical and psychological wounds. The question is, how soon? What is a proper period of mourning?
A few hours after the planes hit, commissioner Bud Selig announced that last night's 15-game schedule and an owners' meeting scheduled yesterday had been postponed. He made no decision about games for the rest of the week, saying, "I will continue to monitor the situation."
Selig made the proper move, and he will make another if he calls off other contests at least through the weekend. Games and their results aren't real life for most of us we just pretend they are. What happened yesterday at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is the harshest kind of reality.
Meanwhile, assorted other leagues and event directors were postponing activities or thinking about doing so. When it comes to a national tragedy of this magnitude, who wants to think about sports? In a few days or weeks, the games that people play may well assuage our pain and rage. But not yet.
Three times before, baseball postponed its entire schedule because of national events: after the death of President Warren G. Harding on Aug. 2, 1923; the Allied invasion of France on June 6, 1944; and the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12, 1945.
But consider this: A mere five weeks after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into World War II, commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis an ardent Republican wrote Roosevelt, saying, "If you believe we ought to close down for the duration of the war, we are ready to do so."
Roosevelt responded with what became known as the "Green Light" letter: "I honestly feel it would be better for the country to keep baseball going… . Everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work." He also requested more night games, which until then had been scheduled on a limited basis, so that workers on the day shift could watch baseball.
On the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, Dec. 7, 1941, the Redskins were completing their season against the Philadelphia Eagles at Griffith Stadium; the first planes struck about the time of the opening kickoff. No announcement was made at the game, although the constant calls for military personnel to report to their offices aroused speculation that something was up. Two weeks later, the Chicago Bears defeated the New York Giants in the championship game.
Well remembered by those old enough is the NFL's controversial decision to play as scheduled on Nov. 24, 1963, two days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The telecast of the game between the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles was interrupted to show the CBS feed of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby in the basement of the Dallas jail. Who won the game? Who cared?
Rozelle's dubious logic was that Kennedy, a football fan, would have wanted it that way, but he was widely roasted for letting the games go on. It didn't help that the rival American Football League postponed its schedule. Decades later, Rozelle conceded that the decision was the worst of his long and generally positive tenure.
After Sen. Robert Kennedy, a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, was fatally shot following the California primary on the morning of June 5, 1968, in Los Angeles, the Washington Senators postponed a game against Minnesota on the day of his funeral, June 8, although the teams had played the previous night. Soon afterward, Washington's D.C. Stadium was renamed in his honor.
It is not believed that the NBA or NHL has postponed entire schedules, but records for the latter go back only to 1951. An NHL spokesman cited three examples of individual games being postponed: the New York Rangers at Toronto on Feb. 6, 1952, after the death of King George VI; Detroit at Boston on Nov. 24, 1963, after President Kennedy's assassination; and a playoff game between San Jose and Colorado on April 21, 1999, after the shootings at a high school in Littleton, Col.
So there is no universal way for sports to react when tragedy strikes any more than there is a universal way for individuals to do so. About all we can do is thank God that such occasions are rare, if no less painful.


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